UK: Techknow - Ask Bill Gates.

UK: Techknow - Ask Bill Gates. - Q. What is the secret of your success?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q. What is the secret of your success?

A. There is no one secret to success. But certain attitudes and approaches can contribute. Here are three that help me.

First, I am acutely conscious of the value of time. For example, when I go to a meeting I keep specific objectives in mind. There isn't much small talk. We discuss accounts we lost or where an overhead is too high, and then we're done. Bang!

Second, I watch the competitive landscape carefully. Microsoft is always searching for the next big thing, so we try to understand what other people are doing, even if their apparent mission is not obvious competition.

We end up looking at a lot more potential threats than ever become real.

Third, I don't settle for platitudes when discussing management challenges.

There is a kernel of wisdom in certain platitudes, such as 'Listen to your customers', and a well-chosen platitude can get people thinking in an appropriate framework. But a manager whose only contribution is spouting platitudes annoys me. This is a poor substitute for thoughtfulness.

In a large company, translating the sentiment behind a platitude into action often means setting up a system. This can be a real problem. One platitude I embrace is that a company should be customer-driven - it should pay attention to what customers say they want, and then put that knowledge to work. At Microsoft we pursue the goal through systematic effort. For example, we log every customer telephone contact and analyse the results to provide better customer service and improve our products. We're far from perfect at it, but we're better off with these systems than we would be if we settled for platitudes alone.

Q. Why did Microsoft take so long to realise the importance of the internet?

A. Microsoft has eagerly anticipated the communications revolution for years. Early on, Paul Allen and I believed that patterns of work, play and learning would change dramatically once digital information could be easily exchanged across computer networks. Microsoft has since invested hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipation of these opportunities.

Microsoft also anticipated that the revolution would happen quickly once it got under way.

We recognised by 1993 that the internet might be what would set off this positive-feedback cycle. I gave a great deal of personal thought to the internet back then and even wrote a memo on it. But we were cautious because it had drawbacks compared to other approaches. On the other hand, history has shown that almost any limitation can be overcome if enough energy is devoted to it. In short, although we knew lightning would strike someday, we didn't know when or in exactly what form.

The lightning strike was awesome. It really energised us. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of Microsoft's energy today is devoted to taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the web. Because so much attention is being lavished on the internet by so many companies, its remaining drawbacks will be overcome.

Some already have been. Yet it's still very early. Keep in mind that the money made by companies on the web so far is almost zero. All of the opportunity - and it is enormous - lies ahead.

Ask Bill Gates questions: askbill@microsoft.com.

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